I, brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why do I
still suffer persecution? Then the offense of the cross
has ceased." (Galatians 5:11).
from which this title is taken suggests that if only Paul
had continued to preach circumcision he could have
avoided persecution and been freed from the inevitable
offence which is created by the message of the Cross. It
is an obvious fact that wherever the Cross of the Lord
Jesus Christ has been faithfully preached it has not only
brought hope and new life to some but also caused trouble
with many more. Wherever this message has gone it has
aroused antagonism. As it was a stumbling-block to the
Jews and an absurdity to the Greeks in the first days, so
it has ever since been unacceptable not only to men of
the world but even to many religious people.
This is a fact, in spite of its being the most popular
symbol. There is hardly a city in Christendom where the
architecture, galleries of art, collections of literature
and conservatoires of music do not give a prominent place
to the sacred sign of the cross. It is a pity, then, that
so much of the preaching and teaching in the Christian
Church is either confined to the "Historic
Jesus", which presents a crossless Christ, or to an
interpretation of the cross which is much less than the
Yet the consistent message of the whole Bible is that the
Cross is God's way of salvation, His sufficient and His
only way. It is further very clear that this has been the
message which God has blessed to the salvation of men. It
was dominant in New Testament days, and the recovery of,
or re-emphasis upon some vital and essential phase of
that Cross gave rise to such movements as are signified
by names like Luther, the Wesleys, Whitfield, Moody,
Spurgeon and many other God-honoured men.
Before we begin to discuss why the Cross has always been
such a maker of trouble and cause of offence, we need to
make it plain that no exception is taken to the heroics
of the Cross or its aesthetics. Sacrifice, suffering,
unselfish devotion, self-effacing service for the good of
others, enduring the penalty of setting oneself against
current evils; these are romantic elements which are
popularly appreciated. It is the deeper meaning which the
Bible gives to the Cross which provokes men's opposition,
and it may be profitable to examine a few of these more
1. The Cross condemns the world.
In the Cross Christ created a great divide between the
old world and the new, a divide which cannot be bridged.
Two distinctly different systems, scales of value,
standards of judgment, sets of laws, stand contrasted on
the two sides of the Cross. The system of each is not
only quite different, but irreconcilable and forever
mutually antagonistic. The cross demands an absolute
distinctiveness of interest and objectives, relationships
and resources. It draws the final distinction between the
saved and the unsaved, between the living and the dead.
The apostle Paul said that by the Cross of Christ he had
"been crucified to the world" and the world
crucified to him. The Word of God emphatically declares
that this age is evil and that "the whole world
lieth in the wicked one". It says that the world's
ways, motives, purposes, ideas and imaginations are all
the opposite of God's. It further asserts that the world
is utterly incapacitated from either receiving the
revelation of the divine mind, growing of itself into the
divine image, enjoying and appreciating real fellowship
with God, or being entrusted with the privilege of
co-operation with God.
Such capacities and relationships belong only to those
whose new birth has delivered them from this present
world. It is understandable that the world finds the
condemnation of the Cross irritating and unacceptable,
and it is to be feared that the presence of
"worldliness" in the individual Christian life
and in the Church is in direct contradiction to the
essential purposes of the Cross. The Lord Jesus described
His cross as being "the judgment of this world"
(John 12:31). Those who follow Him must accept this
verdict, and will consequently have to suffer from the
offence of the Cross.
2. The Cross crucifies the flesh.
The Word of God declares that "our old man has been
crucified with Christ" (Romans 6:6) and that
"One died for all, therefore all died; and he died
for all, that they which live should no longer live unto
themselves, but unto him" (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).
So far as God was concerned the history of the fallen
race was concluded at Calvary. From that time onward,
God's entire concern was the new creation. It is no use
our trying to bring some of the old creation life into
the new creation, for God will not accept it. Our human
capabilities as well as our infirmities; what we call our
better side as well as what we recognise to be our worst
side; our goodness and our badness have all been included
in that death. Henceforth we are called to live not on a
human level but on a divine. In ourselves we possess
nothing which is acceptable to God.
So often it is the assertion of some human element, some
like or dislike, some ambition or some personal interest,
which paralyses the work of God in and through us. To
regard not only our sins but ourselves as having been
taken to the Cross by Christ is the only way by which
those purposes of God can be wrought out through our
lives. It may seem strange that while we so often deplore
our lack of spirituality, we are so slow to accept the
verdict of the Cross on our natural lives. We find it
humiliating to accept the same verdict on ourselves as
has been passed on the world, namely that of death by
crucifixion. Nevertheless there is no other basis for a
really spiritual life and witness: the Cross must work
out death in us in order that the life of Christ may be
released in full expression through us. So there may be a
sense in which the Christian also has to face the offence
of the Cross. Only by really knowing the power of the
fact that he is crucified with Christ can he know the
blessedness of the new life. When it is truly "no
longer I", then the way is opened for the
affirmation: "but Christ that liveth in me".
The end is glorious but the way is the painful way of the
3. The Cross casts out the devil.
Here we touch the deepest cause of the offence, for the
world and the flesh are only the instruments and weapons
by which the great hierarchy of Satan maintains its hold
and its existence as the controlling force. As He
approached the Cross, Christ said: "Now is the
prince of this world cast out" (John 12:31). As Paul
reflected on the deep meaning of the Cross he said that
by it: "Christ stripped off principalities and
powers, making a show of them openly, and triumphed over
them" (Colossians 2:15).
It is perfectly natural, then, that the great hierarchy
of evil should by every means and resource seek to make
the Cross of none effect. By the "pale cast of
thought" it will dilute the message of the Cross; by
pushing in the world's methods and spirit it will sap the
spiritual vitality of the Church; by stirring up the
flesh, the self and the old Adam it will cause schism,
strain and disintegration; or by making much of the human
elements in its artistic, aesthetic, heroic side, it will
be blind to the need for regeneration. Reputation,
popularity, the world's standards of success, are all
contrary to the spirit of Christ, but they are the
attractions by which the enemy engrosses the minds of
many, sometimes even Christian ministers.
If, therefore, the Cross is preached in the full content
of victory over and emancipation from the world, the
flesh and the devil, it is to be expected that by hook or
crook the intelligent forces of evil will stop at nothing
to silence it, and will stir up every cause of offence
which can be laid to the account of the Cross. No wonder
that this message is repudiated or misrepresented, since
it is God's solution to the problems of fallen man.
Crucifixion is a harsh end; it reveals the utterness of
God's repudiation of everything which belongs to the old
creation. To the believer, however, the Cross as
presented in the gospel is the power of God unto
In conclusion let us not forget that the enjoyment of the
full purpose of God, the experience of victory, and
association in life with Him that sitteth on the throne
in His glory are ours just in so far as we are one with
the reality of the Cross as set forth in the Word of God.
Perhaps it is best summed up for us in the words:
"They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb,
and because of the word of their testimony, and they
counted not their lives dear unto the death"
(Revelation 12:11 ).
"Toward The Mark" Jan-Feb, 1978